In our modern culture we all here about exercise as an essential part of wellness. Many even say it’s paramount. Yet I find there’s a bit of misinformation.

A couple of myths about exercise and wellness, I encounter regularly:

Myth – Burning calories through exercise needs to be the priority in a weight loss program. As stated by Mark Hyman, MD, a Functional medicine guru and founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, “You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.” What does this mean, it means that if you’re weighing a trip to the grocery store to buy healthy whole foods versus a workout and fast food, choose healthy whole foods.

Myth – If we don’t get our heart rate up for x amount of minutes we didn’t get a workout in. Movement doesn’t always have to be at a gym or on a treadmill. Numerous studies show that exercise can have many of the same benefits if spread throughout the day.

Myth – We need a controlled environment such as a gym to monitor metrics to be sure we get the right results. A recent study showed that running outside actually had a greater reduction of stress hormones versus indoors.

Myth – Exercise has to be intense. Exercise is essential for health. True, moderate exercise increases immunity. However, intense exercise for extended periods of time depletes a person and increases susceptibility to certain types of colds and viruses.

Myth – Just do it. Even if you don’t like it, get it done. Movement and exercise should be fun. Find activities that are joyful, even if it’s not your entire exercise program. This way you will be inspired to continue.

As many of you know I’m a recreational cyclist, cycling five days a week and 100 to 130 miles a week during the season. I see the benefit of exercise, yet I think it’s important to keep in mind that it takes training to get to 5 days a week of intense workouts. What I often see are people that commit to a weight loss or wellness program and jump right into a 5 day/week intense workout plan. Inevitably with this approach a breakdown happens—they get sick, they get injured, or they burn out.

Much of the science around habit formation and sustainable life changes supports slow incremental adjustments. Much of the science around getting fit tells us to start slow. Yet the dominant strategy I see is almost always all in, full on… until it’s not. The wellness conversation I have with patients is for slow, sustainable changes that start with regular moderate movement, incremental lifestyle changes and whole food dietary changes.

So what does moderate movement look like if it’s not in the form of a run on the treadmill at the gym?

Here are a few examples

  1. Walking the dog around the neighborhood.
  2. An afternoon walk in the park.
  3. Doing errands on foot or via bicycle.
  4. Parking the car further away at the office or the grocery store.
  5. Taking the stairs versus the elevator.
  6. Stretching for 15-20 minutes on the living room floor.

Several of the above can be incorporated throughout the day. If you are looking to increase your movement, make small, consistent changes that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. Doing so will help you stay on track on your path to greater wellness.